Tiger owner to appeal judge’s ruling

JOHNSTOWN – A Mayfield man who keeps several pet tigers and leopards at his home will be appealing a judge’s ruling that the town was correct in determining his operation violated zoning laws.

A notice of appeal was filed in State Supreme Court in Johnstown on Jan. 10 by Salton’s attorney, Christian J. Soller. The court filing says Justice Richard T. Aulisi “erred” by failing to overturn the town’s Zoning Board of Appeal’s determination that Salton was running a home business and needed Planning Board approval.

Aulisi ruled on Salton’s Article 78 petition on Dec. 7, saying the zoning board’s decision was “supported by a rational basis and by substantial evidence,” which included Salton’s exhibitor license, which requires the animals to be on public display, and a state permit application, business cards and website listing a business named Natasha’s Helping Hand.

Salton had three tigers and two leopards at his property on Route 30 when the town’s code enforcer, Michael Stewart, informed him he needed Planning Board approval to operate a home business in a residential zone. The zoning board in October 2011 affirmed Stewart’s determination the animal display constituted a business, but Salton chose to file an Article 78 petition to challenge that decision instead of applying to the Planning Board.

Salton and his wife, Cynthia, in 2008 filed for a business certificate, doing business as Natasha’s Helping Hand. They filed a dissolution of business notice on June 14, 2011, stating the operation was “residential, not commercial.”

He has referred comments on the Article 78 filing to his attorney, who did not return a phone message or email left last week.

Salton also is facing a lawsuit from nearby property owners who say his animals have diminished the value of their land and caused the sale of two of their lots to fall through.

The suit was filed in state Supreme Court in Johnstown on Oct. 31 on behalf of Donald H. Russell and Jean M. Russell, who own 12 lots, including a spec house, in the Donje Woods subdivision and two lots on Route 30 near Salton’s home.

The Russells want the court to rule that Salton is violating zoning laws and that the animals constitute a public nuisance. They also are seeking compensatory damages because of their “loss of use and enjoyment of their properties.”

“Look in any zoning code anywhere … residential is usually the safest, quietest and intended to allow peaceful living, and this is totally inconsistent with that,” their attorney, Salvatore Ferlazzo, said Friday. “The potential for damage is staggering. Accidents happen, and that’s why we don’t believe [the animals] belong in a residential area.”

If the case proceeds to a trial, he said he’ll introduce video evidence of the tigers’ roars as heard from the Russells’ property.

In an answer to the lawsuit filed Dec. 18, Soller called the legal action “frivolous.” He wrote the Russells’ “inability the sell their overpriced home” had no connection to Salton’s “lawful conduct” in owning the animals.

“I don’t have control over the economy. Look all over Fulton County real estate,” Salton said. He declined to comment on the Article 78 appeal.

Court documents indicate the Russells are facing foreclosure on their home on Paradise Point Road, which was filed in 2009, and on the spec house at 2 Donje Woods Lane, which was filed less than two months before the Russells’ filed their suit against Salton.

Ferlazzo said the timing is not coincidental.

“Those foreclosure notices are a direct result of their inability to sell these properties,” he said. “Normally, when you develop land in a beautiful area and several houses go up, those houses fill up because they’re desirable and new. Young families move in. But people with young children are going nowhere near this.”

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